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Teaching and Learning


This chapter is about studying, a major activity during your stay with us. It tells you about two things:

You will find that a variety of teaching and support methods are used across the different courses and within individual units. These are: lectures, laboratory sessions, academic tutorials, problem classes, personal tutorials, and office hours. In addition, many units will require you to do coursework and project work.

The teaching methods used in any given unit are complementary. Taken together they will provide you with the information and practical experience necessary for you to understand the material covered in the unit. We therefore expect you to attend all of the teaching sessions scheduled for a given unit.

In addition to organised teaching, you can also expect to spend time on private study for each of the units that you take, typically between 6 and 10 hours per week for a unit worth 20 credits. An outline of a typical working week including private study is included at the end of this chapter.

Information about times and rooms for scheduled teaching sessions is published at the beginning of the year. It is useful to draw up your own timetable to make sure that you know when and where you are supposed to be during any given week. If changes need to be made to the timetable we will inform you by e-mail and update the web page.


Lectures are the primary teaching method for most units. There are typically 2 or 3 lectures per week for each unit and each lecture lasts for 50 minutes. Starting this year, all lectures will start on the hour, and there will not be a fixed lunch hour (although some attempt will be made to ensure that everyone gets a lunch break either at 12:00 or at 13:00).

The purpose of lectures is to present the material that you need to learn and understand for a unit. In the first lecture, we will give you an overview of the material to be covered, an indication of the content of subsequent lectures and information about laboratory sessions and support classes and coursework associated with the unit. We may often give 1 or 2 lectures at the end which will review all the material covered in the unit.

You will find that the form of lectures will vary, depending on the subject area and who is running the unit. For example, some of us will write on a blackboard or whiteboard or overhead transparencies, some will use projected slides, and some will make use of videos and 'live demonstrations' on computer terminals. Some of us will expect you to take notes, others will hand out printed notes, and some will provide notes online. It should be clear from the first lecture what form will be adopted and what is expected of you during lectures.

It is a good idea to prepare for lectures by reading notes from the previous lecture and/or course notes relating to the lecture. This will help you to follow the material 'as it is delivered' and so enable you to benefit more. Going over the material covered as soon as possible afterwards is also a good idea - it will help you to learn more effectively and enable you to identify any areas that you are unsure about. We will tell you during the lectures where you can read up on the material, e.g. in course notes or in a textbook.

Don't be afraid to ask questions. If you don't understand something or want clarification, put up your hand and ask. It helps us to get immediate feedback on the progress of the lecture and provides welcome interaction between the 'speaker' and 'audience'. Also, you will probably find that half of the class were unsure about the same thing and will appreciate your intervention. If your question requires a detailed answer or you would like a 'one-to-one' response then see the lecturer afterwards or during an office hour (see below).

Please try to arrive at lecture rooms well before lectures begin. Although some rooms allow discreet access via a back door, late arrivals can often be highly disruptive for both lecturers and students. The general rule is to be considerate. If you are late, consider whether you can enter discreetly; if not, then skip the lecture and find out from the unit web pages and your peers what you missed.

Finally, it is often tempting to chat, eat or possibly sleep during lectures. The first two of these are bad news - they disrupt the lecture and are inconsiderate to others taking part. In the case of sleeping, if it's due to a late night try not to make a habit of it; if it's because you find the lectures boring, then let us know quickly and we will see if something needs to be done about it.

Laboratory Sessions

Many of the units that you take will involve some form of practical work which you will usually do in a laboratory session. These will normally last 2 or 3 hours and will be one of two forms: a supervised laboratory, in which lecturers and/or postgraduates will be available to help you during the session. Occasionally, laboratory sessions may also be used by us to give a `practical lecture' on some aspect of the unit.

All booked laboratory sessions are scheduled so that each unit has the required amount of laboratory time at the appropriate point in the year. Some units require a regular laboratory slot, for example 2 hours per week, whilst others will use blocks of time at different points in the year, for example 8 hours in weeks 3, 7, and 10. The laboratory times for all units are published on the appropriate timetable at the beginning of the year.

A typical laboratory session will involve you working through exercises. We will give these to you beforehand to enable you to prepare for the session and it is important that you spend sufficient time on preparation in order to make full use of your time in the laboratory. For example, it is a good idea to read through all of the exercises to check that you understand what you will need to do and to sketch out solutions to one or two of the exercises. This will enable you to identify any problems and contact us for help before the session takes place.

During a laboratory session it is a good idea to keep a record of the work you do. Therefore we recommend that you keep a laboratory notebook for use in all of your classes. This can be used to make notes (by you or a supervisor), record results, etc, which you can easily refer back to at some later date. In addition, make sure that you keep an electronic copy of all programs that you write - you can be sure that you will need to make use of them again.

We encourage all of our students to help each other and to work together in the laboratory. You will often find that many heads are better than one for some of the exercises. However, it is important that you are aware of the difference between `working together' and `copying': the aim is for you to understand the work, not for you to get an answer without doing any work.

When we supervise a laboratory session we are there to help you with any problems you have doing the exercises. There should be regular contact between you and the supervisor in each session, to discuss the exercises and your work. It is a good idea to make full use of this - it gives you the opportunity to get feedback on what you are doing and so enable you to assess your progress.

Normally you should have adequate time to complete the exercises set for a session. If for some reason you are not able to, then it is important that you take action to make sure that you either finish off the work at some later date, or failing that, to make sure that you understand the exercises that you did not complete.

The practical content of your courses is important and therefore we expect you to attend all laboratory sessions. If you miss a session for whatever reason, you should inform the lecturer concerned and discuss what action you should take. By the same token, if you are unhappy about the supervision you are getting, then let us know, either by talking to the lecturer concerned or the year tutor. We will then do something about it.


Associated with most of the units you take will be one or more assignments known as coursework. They are an integral component of the unit and will give you experience of tackling problems in the subject area. Typically they will be in the form of practical exercises. The marks obtained for coursework form part of the overall assessment as stated in the unit descriptions. You will find more details about coursework in the next chapter.

Project Work

Over the duration of your course you will be given a number of project work assignments. There are two types of project, individual and group projects, and in each case you will have the opportunity to learn about all aspects of tackling a self-contained project - from its initial conception and design to its final implementation. This will be valuable experience for you as a computer scientist. The chapter on Projects gives more details on project work.

Academic Support

We provide a variety of academic support mechanisms to help you during your course. These have been designed to help you maximise your learning and to give you a chance to take control of your learning in the way that is most effective for you. Support is available in several different forms:

The department sometimes runs a Help Desk at peak times of day during term times. This is there to help you when you are stuck with questions such as how do you do something in Linux, or to help sort out small programming issues, such as using a debugger or makefiles or whatever. The help desk is usually run either by post-graduate students or by undergraduates in their final year. They can usually answer the more mundane questions which you don't want to bother lecturers with, but which are causing you a great deal of trouble.

Office hours are scheduled and reserved to assist you with academic difficulties. During those hours you can turn up at a designated place, usually a lecturer's office, to ask for help on a 'one-to-one' basis. You can also turn up in a small group if you are all experiencing the same difficulty. You can use this time to get help on challenging aspects of the course, to catch up on a lecture you missed due to illness or to obtain feedback on an assignment. Please make full use of these hours. To find out when and where office hours are held, see the unit home page on the web.

Problem classes are used to go over exercise problems relating to the material covered in lectures. The problems will be given to you beforehand to do as part of your private study and the solutions to some or all of them will then be gone through by a lecturer or postgraduate during a problem class. Obviously it is a good idea to attempt the problems beforehand in order to make the most of the classes.

Academic tutorials are used to provide additional teaching on certain aspects of a unit. They are usually run in small groups and may involve tackling a problem or looking in greater detail at some aspect of a topic area. The sessions allow you to get help quickly and to discuss any problems with us and with others taking the unit.

Personal Tutorials

When you join the Department, you are assigned one member of staff who will act as your personal tutor. Your tutor will have between 4 and 6 tutees in any given year. Your personal tutor is your first contact point in the Department. He or she will be happy to answer questions about the course or particular units, or direct you to those who have the answers. Your tutor is the person to talk to if you need a coursework extension or waiver for some reason. In addition, you should let your tutor know of any changes in your personal circumstances that may have an impact on your academic performance. As tutors we hope to become better acquainted with you and to help you as much as possible during your time at Bristol.

During the first year, your tutor will run tutorials once a week. During subsequent years the tutorials will be less frequent. These tutorials are attended by you and the other students in your tutorial group. The purpose of these tutorials is to give you an opportunity to develop skills that are not otherwise covered by our courses. Activities during tutorials include, for example:

Personal tutorials are also meant to be enjoyable. You may find yourself involved in playing skittles at lunch time or going off together with your group on some extra-curricular activity. Though you can expect to develop the same set of skills as all other students in your year, you may also expect to see differences in style and form amongst tutorial groups. Tutorial groups are made up of different personalities (both staff and students) and these will play a large part in shaping the format of your tutorials.

If you want to change tutor group because you feel that you do not get along, please contact either the Director of Studies or the First Year Tutor.

In addition to the tutorials your tutor will make arrangements to see you individually during the year.


The Department operates a mentoring scheme. A mentor is a student who has been here for at least a year and who can help you settle into university life. The scheme gives every first year student who wishes an undergraduate mentor from year 2 or 3. Because mentors have recent experience in starting their degree, they are very suitable to answer many questions about academic studies and settling in Bristol. Mentors are not meant to replace your tutor. We do not expect mentors to give you regular one-to-one help with coursework, or to help you when you are have serious personal problems.

In the first week of term, mentors will meet up with the first year students, and meetings can be arranged by each mentor group. We suggest frequent meetings in the first term, in order to prevent you from losing touch. Mentor groups will be mixed differently from Tutorial groups.

Industrial Contacts

The faculty is starting an experiment this year in which undergraduate students are allocated a contact in local industry.

Private Study

You will need to spend a certain amount of time on private study to get maximum benefit from the teaching sessions that we run. To give you an idea, we have included below an outline of a typical working week which shows the amount of time that you should aim to allocate for private study.

The best way of going about private study is to organise your time at the beginning of term and quickly get into a habit of allocating short periods for study at regular intervals during the week. You may want to use your accommodation, or the library. The type of private study that you will need to do will vary from unit to unit, although it will typically include the following:

Note that it is important that you spread your time amongst the units that you are taking and not neglect some units in favour of others.

Your personal tutor will discuss your private study with you throughout the year and will be able to help you assess your progress and tackle any problems that occur.

A Typical Week

You are, of course, free to spend your time as you wish. However, if you don't spend an appropriate proportion of your time studying then you won't be with us for long. You must, therefore, take on board the responsibility for planning your time so that your study and leisure activities are complementary.

A normal load for the year is 120 credits and in the first two years this will usually consist of six 20 credit units, three being studied in weeks 1-12 and three in weeks 13-24. On average you are expected to work a 40 hour week so you need to divide your time between the units so as to keep abreast of each subject. Typically a Computer Science unit will involve lectures, laboratory sessions, coursework and private study. Units in other departments may be very similar, or may be structured such that there are no laboratory sessions and you are required to undertake more private study.

Suppose you have three units:

UnitLectures Laboratories Tutorials Private Study
Unit A 3 hours3 hours1 hour6 hours
Unit B 3 hours3 hours1 hour6 hours
Unit C 3 hours 1 hour10 hours

The diagram below gives you an idea of how you might spend a typical week. The intention is to show that there is plenty of time in the week for you to enjoy yourself even after spending the recommended 40 hours of study.

TimeSunday MondayTuesdayWednesdayThursdayFridaySaturday
9.00 Lect-ATut-A Lect-A Lect-A
10.00 Lab-B P-S P-S Tut-B
11.00 Lab-B P-S Tut-C Lect-CLect-CP-S
12.00 Lab-B Lect-CP-S P-S P-S P-S
2.00 Lect-B Lab-A P-S Lect-B
3.00 Lect-B Lab-A P-S
4.00 Lab-A P-S
7.00P-S P-S P-S P-S
8.00 P-S P-S P-S
9.00 P-S P-S

In the timetable above Private Study includes time spent on doing exercises set as part of the coursework as well as time spent on preparation for laboratory sessions and tutorials. It leaves a large chunk of Wednesday free because Wednesday afternoon is a `sports' afternoon but if you are not particularly involved in sport you may well use your Wednesday for private study. Such a weekly timetable is not expected to be rigidly applied each week but you may find it easier to establish a good study pattern if you set aside certain times of the week as periods when you normally study.

Staff/Student Liaison Committees

For each degree programme within the faculty there is a Board of Study which is responsible for the administration of the programme. For most programmes the Board of Study consists of all members of the Department which owns the programme. However, there are some programmes which are taught by several departments and for which the Board of Study consists of representatives from all departments concerned.

The responsibilities of the Faculty Education Committee are to advise the Faculty on all matters related to Teaching Quality, and to advise the Faculty on proposed changes to taught programmes and on matters relating to the assessment of student progress.

The Departmental Staff/Student Liaison Committee provides a forum in which issues can be raised, particularly ones which can't be solved quickly by approaching a particular lecturer or other member of staff, or ones which affect many students.

Every year we perform our Annual Programme Review. In this meeting we look at various statistics of the students admissions, performance and questionnaires response. We also consider the external examiners comments.